Monday 29 November 2010

The snow, the snow

Winter has arrived fast and furious with blizzards, heavy snow, bitter winds, freezing temperatures and even thunder and lightning. Four days ago I woke to a few inches of snow. Today there is a level eighteen inches and several feet where the snow has drifted in the north-east wind. The morning of the first snow I drove to Newtonmore where I was going to learn about making videos along with the TGO editorial team. Our tutors were Richard and Meg of Triple Echo Productions, who have made many outstanding outdoor films, including last summer’s Great Climb, and who currently make BBC 2 Scotland’s Adventure Show. The first five miles to Newtonmore were on slippery roads that hadn’t been gritted but once on main roads there was little snow and in Newtonmore there was none. However it did snow that night and I woke the next day to a couple of inches. This was just enough to give the hills a wintry look for the video we made, in freezing weather, about clothing for winter walking. This video should appear, in two parts, on the TGO website sometime soon.

That evening I was due to give a talk on my Pacific Northwest Trail hike to the Inverness Nordic Ski Club. As I left Newtonmore late in the afternoon the snow began to fall heavily and the journey to Inverness took much longer than expected. I arrived in time to give the talk however. Then I had to get home. The main A9 road had a light covering of slushy snow but had been gritted and ploughed. Once I left it I was on deeper snow and roads that hadn’t yet seen a gritting lorry. Careful driving in the snow, which was now falling heavily, took me to the last two miles, which are along a single track road. The snow here was deep and my car was almost stuck several times. At times the front bumper acted as a crude snowplough, flinging up masses of snow onto the windscreen that temporarily blocked my view. If the snow hadn’t been very soft I wouldn’t have made it. As it was I finally slid into a passing place at the bottom of the track to my house and the car stuck firmly. So at 1 a.m. I trudged the half mile up to the house through knee-deep snow and a blizzard. Despite the late hour I lit the solid fuel stove as the temperature in the house was just +8ÂșC. Outside it was -6.

The next day I stomped down the track on snowshoes to check on the car. It was now partly buried in fresh snow. The road still hadn’t been ploughed so there was no point digging the car out of its drift. Even with snowshoes on I was sinking deep into the snow and the going was hard. The woods were beautiful though with great gobbets of snow weighing down the branches. Today I went out on skis for a few hours and found that they were even harder to use than the snowshoes as I ploughed a knee deep furrow through the soft snow. There were few animals or birds moving. The snow was too soft even for them. I’d seen a pheasant wading through the snow in the garden, just its head and neck visible. High above the woods a buzzard mewed and a flurry of wood pigeons exploded out of one tree but otherwise the woods were silent.

With more snow forecast and a hard freeze every night this could be the start of a long, cold winter. Or of course a warm spell could strip away the snow in a few days and leave the hills bare. But until then winter is truly here.

Photo Info: Strathspey in the Snow, November 28, 2010. Sony NEX-5, Sony 18-55 lens@33mm, 1/400@f8, ISO 200, raw file processed in Lightroom 3.


  1. Chris - we did not have as much snow as you, only 2-3 inches, but the temperature in The Lincolnshire Wolds fell to -10C on Saturday night. I camped out in our field and tested out my new Exped Downmat 7 and I kept toasty warm, even though my sleeping bag is only rated -3C. I will look to get out to hills for a weekend backpacking this coming weekend, so as long as I can actually drive to hills! I love this sort of weather for walking.

  2. Hello Chris, I loved reading your report. And, of course, I was relieved that you managed to present your talk about our beloved Pacific Northwest Trail!! You may be amused to learn that I have been very sorry to witness the departure of autumn. "Wintery mix" will soon overtake the suburbs west of Boston, MASS. where I live. Happy trails,

    Ron Strickland

    PS: Next year I will write a guidebook for the 4600-mile North Country National Scenic Trail. For anyone who loves winter hiking, the NCT is a magnificent destination hike.

  3. +8c in your house, at last someone else matches the temp of my house, nothing that a jumper and gillet won't rectify lol.
    Two duvets on the bed, like toast.
    I was due to have a central heating boiler fitted today, but they a day behind, they will be here tomorrow and poss Thurs. The boiler will one day do the house, but for now - it will be "heating" my pond.

  4. Update Chris - we now have 16 inches of snow and it is still piling in !